March 28, 2011

Ocracoke’s youth sports teams have a winning year


Even though Ocracoke is small doesn’t mean it can’t show its might.

That strength was shown this year in its youth basketball, which came “a million miles,” notes school Principal Dr. Walt Padgett.

That’s because this year the teams had their best year yet.

In February, the girls’ middle school basketball team, coached by Noel Goodwin, completed an undefeated season (9-0), a first in Ocracoke history.

“Any time a team goes undefeated is a milestone,” Padgett says.

And the varsity boys won two games, finishing with a 2-12 season. Winning those two games also was a milestone considering the only other game they had won in three years in the Tideland Conference was against a school that is no longer in the conference.

Both girls’ and boys’ varsity teams beat Mattamuskeet High School this year, something that had never happened before.

The middle school boys’ team was 6-3 and the girls’ varsity team was 6-8.

Nevertheless, these are all admirable records, considering that Ocracoke teams have far fewer students from which to draw, which means that sometimes they have to put freshmen on the varsity teams—something that’s not usually done in high school sports.

But a lot on Ocracoke is different from the rest of the world.

So, what is it about the Ocracoke teams that made a difference this year?

Maybe it feeling like they were now real teams when they unveiled new school colors --royal blue and silver -- at last fall’s “Meet the Dolphins” night.  Prior to that, Ocracoke had the Mattamuskeet High colors of black and gold.

Was it the tenacity to put in long days?

“When you play sports here, you sacrifice,” Padgett says.

That sacrifice would be time doing other things, since Ocracoke kids do the most traveling to play other teams.
“Our shortest trip is two hours to play the Hatteras Hurricanes,” Padgett says. “There’ve been a couple of times when we had to call the dock at Hatteras and get them to hold the ferry.  And the ferry people are very good about it.”

“We have a 12-hour day for basketball and they still have to do their schoolwork,” notes Adam Burleson, physical education teacher and athletic director, who coaches the girls’ varsity.  “We have more strict academic standards than other schools, and we’re fortunate our kids can handle it.”

Maybe was it good coaching?

“Our four coaches really emphasize teamwork,” Padgett says. “You can get so much done when not one kid but all the kids get the credit.  Our coaches did the right thing and brought them along slowly but kept their feet to the fire.”

Amazingly, this was Goodwin’s second year coaching anything.

In addition to Goodwin and Burleson, Jason Wells coached the middle school boys and David Allewalt coached the varsity boys. Scot McNally assists both varsity teams.

Even the non-athletes could feel like they were part of the success.

“Just about everyone in the seventh through 12th grades has a job helping the teams, be it fetching water, filming the action, or keeping statistics,” Padgett says.

Or was it that after five years since the basketball program began, the kids had the experience needed to best some of these other teams?

“Community people have been teaching them fundamentals, and we have some real athletes,” Padgett says. “The rest of the kids just hustle.  They play hard from the time the ball is tipped to the last bell.”

Padgett isn’t worried that three seniors from the boys’ and girls’ varsity teams are graduating this year.

“We have some nice talent coming up,” he says, noting that several talented fourth-graders are in the program.

Could it have been the community support -- the local radio station WOVV 90.1 announcing every home game on air and several local businesses broadcasting them?

Or was it that the Ocracoke gym is about 75 percent of the size of regulation basketball courts?

“We have to learn the game in tight quarters,” notes Goodwin.  “Then when we go to other gyms, we can stretch out and we do well.  When other teams come here they have difficulty adjusting. So, (a smaller gym is) definitely to our advantage,” she said.

That will change next year, however, when the new, full-sized gym is completed sometime this summer.  The current gym is closed until the new one is built.

Padgett and Burleson hope all the hard work by the kids will result in the middle school teams getting into the conference this coming year.

Currently, the two varsity teams are in the Tideland Conference and the two middle school teams (girls and boys in grades 7 and 8) are independent, which enables other teams to forfeit games sometimes if they have to travel to Ocracoke.

But basketball wasn’t the only sport the kids excelled in.

The cross-country boys’ team went to state meet this year for the first time.  Both the boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams won districts.

The new facility won’t just be a boon for the basketball program. Padgett will add volleyball to the sports offering.

In addition, it was announced at the March meeting of the  Ocracoke Civic and Business Association that a Little League co-ed baseball team for  ages 10 to 12 will be formed this year and play in the Cal Ripkin League out of Hatteras.

The team will play 10 evening games from April to June, with opening day Saturday, April 12, in Buxton.  This, too, may evolve into another sport for the Ocracoke School.

When it all comes down to it, though, it was one thing that made this season’s sports teams great, says Goodwin -- “It was the kids.”

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